Professional Learning Communities

With summer slipping away, registration behind us and fair week in progress, attention is focusing on the start of school for Cassia students on August 21. It’s not only adults that report the feel of shorter and shorter summer breaks. Student chatter suggests that it’s a universal question. Where did the summer go? There’s plenty of sunshine left, but schedules and routines are about to be re-established.

Much of school life remains the same, but one significant change will be driving student outcomes this coming school year. Professional Learning Communities are the priority for classroom teachers and administrators. As defined by the model’s own explanation, “professional learning communities are an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively to achieve better results for the students they serve.” To put it another way, Dr. Shank explains, “the idea of Professional Learning Communities is based upon the fundamental purpose of school; to ensure that all students learn at high levels. This focus on and commitment to the learning of each student is the essence of a learning community.”

Collaboration is a vital component of this instructional shift. According to Dr. Shank, “the collaborative culture and collective responsibility is an expectation and requirement of team members who interdependently achieve common goals and hold each other accountable.”

Throughout the spring and summer teachers and administrators have attended conferences teaching the principles supporting PLCs. They rest on strategic questions that are designed to drive instruction and increase student achievement.

First questions inform teaching strategies and supporting curriculum. What do we expect students to learn? The follow-up to that question supports accountability of instruction. How will we know they are learning?

Two more questions speak to the individual needs of students. How will we respond when they don’t learn it and how we will respond if they already know it? These are critical questions, as some students require more attention to a content standard and some students need more to challenge them.

For students that need more, time isn’t the only element of supporting the learning. This takes in differentiating the instruction, targeting specific skills and being flexible to individual student learning styles.

Schools, particularly elementaries, have many student supports intended to provide interventions and aide when students struggle or fall behind.

High achieving students need attention for their progress similar to any student in the class. Students who easily grasp concepts should expect the kind of growth they are capable of achieving.

The first four years of a student’s academic life are absolutely critical to long term success. Literacy, as defined by the ability to read and write, must be a proven proficiency early in an educational career. Learning to read, by the third grade in order to read to learn is an internationally established benchmark. Recognizing that students learn in different ways and at different paces is a skill that trained teachers use every day.

Change isn’t easy and long lasting change doesn’t come swiftly. It takes an investment and commitment. Early teacher and administrator reactions, to PLCs, are very positive. We encourage parents and community members to ask district teachers about their work and progress throughout the school year. School board members and district officials will monitor results and evidence of effectiveness throughout the year. The mission of the district remains focused on academic achievement. Cassia County supports high levels of learning and success.

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